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Chinese may ‘take over’ Lajes military airbase in Azores, but only for scientific purposes

Portuguese media is abuzz again today with the possibility of Chinese intervention over the Lajes military airbase, in the Azores.

Since 2012, when the United States suggested it would be pulling out of the base it has used and leased from Portugal for decades, controversy has raged over who or what could take America’s place – given that Lajes is responsible for a huge slice of Terceira island’s economy. Without activity on the base, the island would certainly suffer.

Suggestions that China was interested have come here and there over recent years – fanned by unofficial visits by Chinese dignitaries – but yesterday in Macau prime minister António Costa came clean. If the U.S. does not renew its “agreement of exclusivity”, then China could move into Lajes “but not for military purposes”.

Whether this was a ruse to dissuade America from leaving, no one can tell.

Costa’s words to Bloomberg were: “We have an agreement with the United States, and we want to continue with this agreement”.

But Portugal will “respect” whatever America decides.

Azores is “very important in military terms”, he added – but it is also important in “terms of logistics, technology and deep-sea and climate change research”.

According to TVI24, “in face of insistence by the Bloomberg journalist on the use of the base by China, Costa admitted: Of course it is a great opportunity to create a platform for scientific research, and we are open to cooperation from all partners, including China”.

He is also quoted as saying “at the end of the interview”: “It would be an enormous shame not to use the base, and if it is not to be for military purposes, why not for scientific research?”

Costa stressed that “Portugal does not have any problem with Chinese investments, which he classified as very positive for the economy”, TVI added.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com